Is It OK to Be Jealous of a Partner’s Platonic Friendship?

Some situations blur the lines of coworkers, friends & romance.

Navigating the complexities of heterosexual platonic friendships and coworker relationships can be pretty exhausting. There is no rule book on what kind of friendship one can have with a coworker, or which platonic friendships would be considered a betrayal in a romantic relationship. Ph.D. candidate and therapist, Miriam Kirmayer, sat down for round two with Personal Space to help decode some additional friendship questions!

Personal Space: Is it socially acceptable to party with coworkers, or is it best to keep those friendships professional?

Miriam Kirmayer: To a large extent, the best answer is: it depends. It depends on the corporate culture you are a part of, your own personality and comfort level with blending worlds, and your relationships with your coworkers, not to mention the kind of partier you are. There’s substantial evidence that having friends at work can be hugely beneficial for our well-being and mental health, workplace satisfaction, and overall productivity. And finding the time to strengthen your relationships with coworkers can be a really positive action. That said, workplace friendships can also differ from our other friendships in several ways. The topics you chat about might be more restricted and you might be a little more concerned about your reputation, which can make you hyper aware of what you decide to share and where you choose to socialize. I would say the key is balance. Obviously, letting loose and spilling information or behaving in a way that can put your relationships and reputations at risk, is not a good idea. But it can be equally damaging to close ourselves off from the possibility of developing meaningful relationship with coworkers.

PS: Is it appropriate for someone who is married to start a new friendship with someone of the opposite sex who is single?

MK: It is definitely possible for men and women to just be friends. But it’s also not uncommon for attraction or sexual interest to be present in cross-gender or heterosocial friendships. Regardless of whether this attraction is one-sided or mutual, it can create issues within the friendship and in other relationships as well; especially when one person is involved in a committed romantic relationship. It’s difficult to come up with a hard rule for the appropriateness of cross-gender friendships when one person is married. If someone gives more of their time and energy to their friend than their romantic relationship, or if the friendship fulfills some of the needs (like emotional intimacy) that would typically be met by a partner or spouse, jealousy can come up and create issues regardless of whether there is anything sexual or romantic going on. What about the friendship is satisfying or validating? Is the friendship giving you something your romantic relationship is not? Do you feel the need to hide anything from your friend or spouse? These are the kinds of questions that need to be given consideration in order for cross-gender friendships to thrive alongside romantic relationships.

PS: Should it be harder or easier to maintain platonic friendship as we get older?

MK: On the one hand, you would think it gets easier to maintain our friendships the older we get. We have had more opportunities to practice certain social skills and we ideally hone in on a group of friends who truly matter and with whom things just seem to flow. But the busier life becomes, the harder it can be to hold on to our friends. Moreover, the challenges we experience in our friendships change and so many people can feel unsure of how to handle issues like balancing our friendships with our families or navigating being at different life stages. The other issue is that the older we get, the more we need to go out of our way to see our friends, whereas when we’re young opportunities for connection are orchestrated for us. What is clear is that even though it might become more difficult the older we get, holding on to close friends is so important for our health and well-being and our friendships should not be seen as a luxury.

PS: How important is it to have friends in the same stage of life as you?

MK: Having friends who are in a similar life stage can be hugely helpful. Being able to understand and empathize with what the other person is going through can feel validating. It also means you can provide each other with practical support and team up to make life a little easier, whether it’s studying for a big exam or splitting carpool. What’s more, being on the same schedule and having similar responsibilities and commitments can also make it easier to maintain a friendship. That said, having friends who are in a different stage of life also has its benefits. Not only can these friends be an important and helpful reminder of who you were before a major life change (like life before kids), they offer a unique perspective or sounding board, which can be incredibly helpful when we’re feeling overwhelmed by what we’re going through.

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